Port Wentworth teen wins unique aviation scholarship

Sixteen-year-old Payton Mercer loves aeronautics and dreams of being an NASA astronaut.

Now, the Port Wentworth high school student is one step closer to making his dream a reality after he won a flight training scholarship from the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association.

“When we first got the call, I didn’t understand because I didn’t hear who was calling at first,” he said. “But when I realized what it was, I was really excited. It’s really exciting,” he said.

Mercer, an 11th-grader at the Georgia Cyber Academy, was one of 23 scholarship recipients from more than 500 applicants.

The scholarship program is part of AOPA’s High School Aviation Initiative that works to create and support high school aviation science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs, opening career pathways for the next generation of aviation and aerospace professionals. The scholarship program helps to ease the costs of flight training, according to Cindy Hasselbring, AOPA senior director of the High School Aviation Initiative.

“We are very excited to support these 12 young men and 11 young women’s passions for aviation by helping them pursue their dreams of flight,” she said. “Some of the recipients work three jobs just to make money for two flight lessons a month. Others have already contributed their time to volunteering at airport-related events to inspire younger students in flying.”

The teen is an Alpha Flight Sergeant, and Aerospace Officer with the Civil Air Patrol. Mercer hopes to attend the U.S Air Force or U.S. Naval academy after graduation. In May, he was one of only 25 students in Georgia to serve as a 4-H STEM Ambassador.

“I just love being up in the air,” he said. “You get to see a lot more of what’s around you in the air. You get to look around you and look at things when you’re flying. It’s different that just driving a car or running.”

Mercer says that the flexibility of online schooling allows him to participate in aviation activities during the week.

“It’s one of the reasons that we’re still at GCA,” he said. “I’m able to go do activities outside the classroom while not falling behind. I can go fly the whole day and the next day I won’t be behind in class because I am able to work ahead.”

Mercer is the only student from Georgia to win the scholarship.

“I’m super proud of him,” said his mother Rachael Mercer. “He has really large goals and he’s truly working hard to accomplish these things.”

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